Employee management using positive reinforcement and negative feedback

“I do not believe there is any such thing as a ‘B-player’ or a mediocre human being,” says Kim Malone Scott, author of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. She goes on to say, “Everyone can be excellent at something.”

In your every day as a leader, do you feel this way about your employees? Do you believe that everyone can be excellent at something, or do you place more belief in some of your employees over others?

The truth of the matter is that every one of your employees can be excellent; however, much of their ability to perform well in their job has to do with the structure of positive reinforcement and negative feedback that your company operates under. If your employees receive only positive reinforcement, they may never become as excellent as they could be. However, if they only receive negative feedback, turnover will skyrocket as employees will look for healthier work environments. That is why finding a healthy balance between positive reinforcement and negative feedback is extremely beneficial to your workplace environment.

Why positive reinforcement matters employee management

Positive reinforcement is similar to driving a car. Too much gas and you could run into the car in front of you. Too much braking (negative feedback), and you might get rear-ended. The same is true with positive reinforcement and negative feedback; too much of one or the other may lead to unexpected consequences. Here are some reasons that positive reinforcement is extremely important in the workplace.

1. Positive reinforcement steers employees in the right direction

When you express to your employees what you like about their work ethic, quality of work, etc., you reinforce the pattern of their actions. Without this positive reinforcement, employees may continue to do work blindly without understanding the expectations. However, clearly communicating what is working for your employees will help them to consistently achieve that quality of work and keep improving upon it as well.

In fact, studies even show that positive reinforcement encourages employees to replicate good behavior. In this particular study, an electronic positive reinforcement board placed in the halls of a hospital increased medical staff’s likelihood to sanitize their hands. This system worked so well that hand sanitation rose by over 80%, keeping both staff and employees safe and meeting the expectations of hospital sanitation. 

2. Positive reinforcement makes your employees feel valued

Another study found that happy employees saw a 20% increase in productivity as opposed to their counterparts. While there are certainly many factors at play, employee happiness is built, in part, based on the positive reinforcement systems that you and the rest of the management team are exhibiting each day. Employees notice the way they are managed and are more affected by your management style than you realize.

Data also supports the idea that employees who do not feel recognized in their role are more likely to start looking for other jobs than employees who receive validation. In addition to increased productivity among your employees, you will also see greater longevity from your employees as you help them feel valued at your company.

Why negative feedback matters to employee management

Oppositely, negative feedback is also important for a variety of factors. Consequences are a result of actions, whether the consequences lead to good or bad outcomes. To help your employees succeed in their roles, it’s important to balance your positive reinforcement tactics with some level of negative feedback for the following reasons.

1. Negative reinforcement also steers your employees in the right direction

While the same is true for positive reinforcement, negative feedback helps your employees know which behaviors to avoid. For example, if your direct report decided not to show up to work without notice, letting that employee know your expectations is appropriate. In having clear communication about your expectations, you are steering employees towards the behaviors that are and are not appropriate in the workplace. When paired with positive reinforcement, your employee will begin to see which behaviors you like and expect and which behaviors are harmful to your work or your company culture.

2. Negative feedback sets clear expectations

In a work environment that only promotes positive reinforcement, you may see employees demonstrate poor behavior with no correction. This often leads to the same negative behaviors plaguing your team frequently. While you may not recognize it, one employee can affect your entire team’s health, both professionally and personally. Additionally, as a leader, you may find yourself spending a significant amount of time working with problematic employees rather than managing your entire team.

Set clear expectations. Let your team members know when they are doing something that isn’t working. Set expectations professionally, and you will begin to gain more respect from your employees. These expectations may sometimes seem like restrictions for your team, but they will actually help to build a structure for yourself and each of your respective direct reports.

Receive guidance on your company’s performance structure

How you approach positive reinforcement and negative feedback may be completely different for your company as opposed to another. That said if you find yourself struggling with your reinforcement structure, reach out to our experts at One TEAM Partners. While performance structure has much to do with rewards and consequences, it also builds the rituals you want to live within your organization. If you are stuck on how this should look, our experts at One TEAM Partners will help design a structure completely unique to the needs of both your company and your people.


Ready to get started?

Let’s hop on a call